Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick Or Treat, Hon

Joy pours the first press of coffee brewed at project hampden while Jeremy, Rebecca and Kimmy wait to start the vacuum pot and Chemex brews.

Tonight, the very first cup of coffee was brewed at project hampden. A milestone.

With neighbors Ma Petite Shoe hosting the annual Hampden Halloween Costume Contest across the street, what better way to introduce ourselves to the neighborhood than by passing out candies for the children and coffee for the parents? With a bag of the Fazenda San Antonio Brazil from Hines/Origins Organic Coffee in tow, we lugged down to Hampden a setup to brew French Press, Chemex and Vac Pot for our soon-to-be customers.

Truth be told, I originally was only going to do french press at the event. It was our baristas who pushed for multiple brew methods to show off what we were going to be doing when we open. So, along came the Chemex and Vac Pot.

This Is It - Live.

As our team has been getting more comfortable with our methods and practices, I've been stepping back a little to let them run with things. They decided the equipment to bring, they setup and tore down and they did all the brewing and all of the talking. I just kinda hovered in the background in my Wranglers and cowboy boots doing my best Garth Brooks impression.

I have to say: I'm impressed. And proud. Our team greeted the people, talked with them about the coffee and the brew methods and were generally engaging. In essence, they were the kind of baristas that I hoped they would be - and not the typical, chip on the shoulder, pretentious, arrogant, hipster barista you typically find in the "Third Wave."

To be expected, there were a couple of missteps. Maybe a miscue in the brew or a lazy comment, but those were quickly corrected and we soldiered on. It was their first time in the field and I was impressed with their ability to engage the customer and really surprised at how passionately they spoke about the coffee and the brew methods.

More brewing coffee at dusk.

Their choice to bring the additional brew methods was colossal. One coffee three different ways. Now the future customer could taste the difference between methods. No place in Baltimore affords this luxury. Some took the coffee to go. Others stayed and lingered to chat. Some stayed and tried all three brews. Kids came and went. Spiderman, Batman, Scooby, Velma, Parrots, Michael Jackson, Butchers and more. Only two people asked for sugar and cream. Two. Out of maybe a hundred or so served? Not bad.

Most people tried the coffee as is, meaning black. In Towson, perhaps 25% of our customers drink coffee black. Tonight, about 98% of those who came to see us drank it black. I can only guess that it's due to their seeing our crew brewing the coffees, talking about the coffees, engaging the people and developing rapport. Developing comfort and trust with the customer, leading them to giving it a try without sugar and cream.

It's something that I stressed early on. Getting the customer to relax and trust us is key. With that trust, they'll give it a try. That's when we have to deliver - to bolster that trust given us.

It was just a tiny, first step tonight in front of project hampden. But I think it was a great step forward.

Congratulations to Kimmy, Jeremy, Rebecca, Joy and Stephanie for a job well done.

Production Cupping at Spro

The team digs into the morning cupping session.

It's Saturday morning and that's come to mean more training and more cupping. Though this time the cupping is a bit different.

After spending the past few weeks learning how to cup coffees and exploring tastes and their palates, it's time to turn the team loose and start selecting the coffees we will order for the opening of project hampden.

Today we're cupping thirteen coffees from Counter Culture, Stumptown and Ecco Caffe. The program for deciding the coffees goes something like this: 1) cup and taste the coffees and generate flavor notes, 2) develop written descriptions for the coffees, 3) select the coffees for service, and 4) test and determine the "default" brewing method for that coffee.

It's a relatively simple process but, as with most simple things, it's rather laborious and difficult to do. In other words: it's simple, but it ain't easy!

The coffees cupped today (and over the next few days) are as follows:

1 - Shakisso Sidamo, Ethiopia, Counter Culture
2 - Konga Reserve Lot, Kenya, Ecco Caffe
3 - Finca Kilimanjaro, El Salvador, Counter Culture
4 - Finca El Puente, Honduras, Counter Culture
5 - Santa Terezinha, Brazil, Ecco Caffe
6 - Carmen Estate, Panama, Stumptown NYC
7 - La Guatuza, Nicaragua, Ecco Caffe
8 - Gichathaini Reserve, Kenya, Ecco Caffe
9 - La Golondrina, Colombia, Counter Culture
10-Mordecofe, Ethiopia, Stumptown NYC
11-Finca El Injerto Bourbon, Guatemala, Stumptown NYC
12-2009 Holiday Blend Vienna Melange, Colombia, Counter Culture
13-Guayabo, El Salvador, Ecco Caffe

Quite a bit of coffees but there's still more to sample before determining our opening day mix.